Thursday, 14 July 2011

Mindfulness: Coming (back) to our Senses

"Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now." 
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever you go, There you are:  Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.

"Peace is something that we can bring about if we can actually learn to wake up a bit more as individuals and a lot more as a species; if we can learn to be fully what we actually already are; to reside in the inherent potential of what is possible for us, being human." 
Jon Kabat-Zinn

As a student and practitioner of mindfulness I seek to embody my learnings, and practise the principles 'in all my affairs' in the spirit advocated by The Most Venerable Thich Naht Hanh.  Whilst I do my best to practise perfectly imperfectly, I often find that I have slipped into autopilot, and lost my connection with the present. 

On one day of each week I try to realise my intention of paying special attention to my thoughts, words and deeds.  I try to bring awareness, deliberately, moment to moment, without judgment.  Mindfulness is not something that happens in quiet rooms sat upon cushions.  It is a mental quality that can be cultivated in our everyday lives.  It is in this domain that I find it most most nourishing.  The benefits come from 'coming to our senses' and noticing the ordinary which we so often neglect that on being reunited with it, it becomes somehow extraordinary.

Coming to my senses this week involved eating mindfully.  Coming to attend to my appetite, and tuning in to what it was that my body needed, rather than what I might have pre-planned several days before, whilst at the supermarket. 

Preparing my dinner, I tried to slow down.  I focused on what I was doing, and that alone.  I noticed the food available, in my fridge and cupboards.  I felt content and grateful for the fact that I have such a rich variety at my disposal, and the means to purchase it.

As I washed the vegetables, I noticed their colours, shapes and textures.  I observed how one tomato was, in fact, quite different to another, and engaged with the salad I prepared, noticing how it looked, felt, and smelt.  My senses buzzed, alive and attended to once more. 

I noticed how much I was looking forward to eating my perfectly ordinary (and really rather simple) supper, and how I was already anticipating it.  I enjoyed putting the various components together, and laid the table, as I might were guests coming round. 

Thinking about our posture when we come to eat can affect our digestion, and enhance our experience.  When we are rushing, we may not even sit to eat, taking the time to consider the way in which we are sitting in relation to our food can make a difference.

Eating, without television, radio, or reading material, I was able to bring my attention to the tastes and textures, in a heightened manner.  So often we multi-task, we lose out on the sensory stimulus, as our attention is diverted elsewhere, and we are somewhere other than the present - thinking about what we must do next, what we have forgotten to do, who we must speak to, about this and that.  We are not where we are. 

"Smile, Breathe and Go Slowly." 
Thich Naht Hanh

"Life is available only in the present moment." 
Thich Naht Hanh

"Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future." 
Thich Naht Hanh


Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a poet, a scholar, and a peace activist. His life long efforts to generate peace and reconciliation moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. He founded the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon and the School for Youths of Social Services in Vietnam. When not travelling the world to teach “The Art of Mindful Living”, he teaches, writes, and gardens in Plum Village, France, a Buddhist monastery for monks and nuns and a mindfulness practice center for lay people.

Thich Nhat Hanh's key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live in the present moment instead of in the past and in the future. Dwelling in the present moment is, according to Nhat Hanh, the only way to truly develop peace, both in one's self and in the world.

Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD is internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. He is Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he was founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, and founder (in 1979) and former director of its world-renowned Stress Reduction Clinic.
"The little things?  The little moments?  They aren't little."  Jon Kabat-Zinn

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